Smart advice and tips for crafting better comms copy.
1. Begin with a powerful opening line
Draw them in. Every word you write should be designed to entice your reader to move on to the next. Never is this more vital than with your opener. So spend more time than you think you should on it. Keep it super brief – one line ideally. Give the impression that what’s to come is easy to digest, offering your reader a nice easy start.
CHECK IT: Reread your intro line, over and over again. Is it too long? Is it weak, fluffy, boring? Delete it! Keep going until you’ve crafted a deliciously enticing opener.
2. Get to the point
Your audience hasn’t time to read extended intros and surplus waffle. Keep your content logical. Don’t leave them trawling through, searching for the point you’ve hidden in a haystack. Chances are, they won’t. When communicating key facts, important news, or essential updates don’t drag your heels. Get on with it.
CHECK IT: Have you preceded your point with unnecessary nonsense? If so, cut it out and dive straight in.
3. Stick to short words and sentences
No sentence should exceed 25 words – most should be well under this. Keep paragraphs to 3 or 4 sentences. 3 commas in 1 sentence is 1 too many. If you’re in any doubt, run it through an online tool like The Gunning Fog Index or The Hemingway App. Tools like these measure the readability of your writing by assessing things like the number of long words or sentences. They can also estimate the years of formal education needed to grasp the text upon a first read.
CHECK IT: Unless your content is for a specific audience who’ll understand the heavy ins and outs, cut back on complex words and long sentences. Don’t say it in twenty words when five will do.
4. Dump the jargon
This isn’t an opportunity to show off your impressive vocabulary or your incredible grasp of the English language. Think simplicity, accuracy and brevity. Cut the corporate guff because the simpler you can make it, the better your copy will be.
CHECK IT: Scan for industry buzzwords or lengthy, complex terms and replace them with simpler alternatives. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
5. Steer clear of short and useless
As a general guide, a standard news story should be around 300 words. Feature articles and more in-depth posts should remain under about 800 words unless there’s a good reason for them to be longer. However, don’t obsess over the numbers. A short article that only skirts round the facts or dips a toe into the water won’t wash.
CHECK IT: Have you sufficiently covered the facts? Is your article fit for purpose, doing the job for which it was intended? Forget the word count momentarily and make sure you’ve covered the subject.
6. Break it up
Every day I come across articles presented as a series of one long paragraph after another. It’s so off-putting, and unless I’ve a seriously good reason for reading, I simply choose not to.
Segment your text. Use bullets instead of laboriously long lists. Keep your content engaging and feature key facts or interesting intros in subheadings. Pull out captions that will draw the eye and be remembered. Make the experience as effortless as possible.
CHECK IT: Does you article actually look appealing? If you think it looks like a tough read, chances are your audience will too. Break up long sections with one-liners, subheadings and bullet points.
Other than employing a second pair of eyes to check over your copy for you, I find the most effective way to proofread an article is to read it out loud. You’ll soon spot any errors, emissions or silly mistakes. Then edit, edit, edit! Be unbelievably brutal. Review the points above and use them as a checklist to make your copy the best it can be.
CHECK IT: If in doubt, cross it out. It’s a surprisingly liberating feeling when you take a determined approach and slash through your work, leaving it shorter, simpler and sharper.